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Arsenal were eliminated but were buoyed by Trossard, Martinelli and a tense clash with City

Arsenal were eliminated but were buoyed by Trossard, Martinelli and a tense clash with City

A lot of time has passed since then Arsenal experienced this feeling – 145 days to be exact, if we are talking about the defeat on the road to another English team – and surely know what will happen next.

Does this count as a psychological blow? How much will this affect the title fight? Arsenal should just accept it Manchester City brilliant and relentless and, frankly, a bit terrifying, and that sooner or later Pep Guardiola’s team of serial champions and leaders will return to their rightful place at the top Major league?

Okay, that last one may have been given a little top spin. However, you get the idea. Arsenal could always find such a story if they had FA Cup the fourth round tie at the Etihad went in favor of the Premier League champions.

However, the reality for Arsenal is that they should not get too hung up on what their 1-0 defeat means in the context of the title race. Too much to read into one result. The last time anyone checked, Arsenal were still enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League.

Mikel Arteta’s side still had 50 points midway through the season. They still had the unmistakable look of champions-in-waiting. There is no sign this season that they will lose their nerve in a loss that hardly had anything between the two teams.

If anything, Arteta may feel slightly invigorated once the frustration starts to fade and he reflects on the experimental man-marking tactic that has stalled Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland is effective as always.

Here, too, there was solid evidence that Aaron Ramsdale that’s what the Arsenal goalkeeper – one of the regulars left out of the starting line-up – was asked earlier in the week about Leandro Trossard, signing from Brighton and Hove Albion for £27m.

“Trossard is coming in to take somebody’s place,” Ramsdale said. “It might look like he’s coming to be part of the team. But deep down, as I was with (Bernd) Leno, he will come to fill one of the three player spots in the front league.”

Trossard was Arsenal’s brightest forward in the first half at the Etihad (Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It was unusual to hear someone in football talk so openly about locker room dynamics, but it made perfect sense. Trossard wants to make himself an integral member of the team, in the process he intends to take away one of his new teammates. Gabriel Martinellito give him his name.

The problem for Trossard is that Martinelli is having the best season of his career, and on Friday, signed a new contract with the club for four and a half years. Ramsdale’s verdict was that someone might end up feeling underwhelmed – “One of those front three might say, ‘Wait'” – and that’s probably true. But since when has that been a bad thing for a club aiming to win a league title?

The mind returns to Manchester UnitedYears of dominance and Sir Alex Ferguson signed another left winger, Jesper Blomqvist, to challenge Ryan Giggs for his place. Some players began to wind Giggs up, joking that it was the beginning of the end. Giggs took it in good humor. But there came a moment when he turned to Gary Neville, looked him in the eye and said bluntly, “He better be good.”

Trossard had better be good too. And Martinelli better be good. Actually better than good. Neither of them can be shaken as a left-sided striker in the front three. Martinelli cannot allow any form of complacency to stop his upward trajectory. Trossard should know that a little patience may be required.

He started this match in a hurry, though, and John Stones in particular, found him a difficult opponent before one chase ended with England International care with an injured hamstring.

Stones, according to Guardiola, was “not ready” and that was the case from the first whistle. The City manager looked irritated and unhappy with his player. If you’re not ready, Guardiola explained, it can lead to injuries. A more sympathetic view was that Stones was unnerved by Trossard’s willingness to come in from the wing and pounce on one of the most experienced defenders in the league.

The Belgian forward was the most dangerous player on the pitch in the first half and nobody should be too surprised given his performances for Brighton seven goals in 17 appearances this season and there is an overwhelming sense that he is finding himself fit at the highest level.

It was soon withdrawn Nathan Ake scored the decisive goal and, as Arsenal continued to play, Martinelli was bright and cheerful for the remainder of the match. Did the substitute have something to prove? Maybe to some extent. However, the happy reality for Arsenal is that Martinelli has played with such sharpness all season.

Arsenal substitute Martinelli shows his frustration after seeing a late chance slip away against Manchester City (Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

So, yes, Arsenal shouldn’t feel too lost about being knocked out of a competition they’ve won more times than any other club.

Arsene Wenger alone ended his managerial career in 2018 with more FA Cups than City in their history. Wenger’s seven equaled the final score Chelsea and Liverpool at that stage. Arsenal have 14, two more than Manchester United and six more than any of their opponents. This is a phenomenal record.

But Arsenal have other priorities this season and this defeat is unlikely to be a footnote to their season if it ends with red and white ribbons in the Champions Cup.

Yes, it’s very frustrating to lose to a team they want to face. And, yes, it’s a reminder of City’s resilience before the two sets of players meet again on February 15 and April 26 in the games that matter most.

The bottom line, however, is that if Arteta had intended to inflict real psychological damage on City, he would have played his first XI. Instead, he opted to make half a dozen changes and the league leaders still managed to hold on against what was close to a fully-fledged City.

The questions will come regardless. After such defeat, there will always be control. But does it match? Guardiola, for the record, shook his head when asked if this would affect City’s chances of catching and overcoming Arsenal in the title race. “I don’t think so,” he said.

(Top photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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